Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Wager Review (Donna Jo Napoli)

Don Giovanni is no beggar. A few months ago he was the wealthiest and handsomest young man in Messina, until a tidal wave washed away everything he owned. Though he's now homeless and poor, he still has his pride - and his good looks. Yet winter is coming, and Don Giovanni has nowhere to go, nothing to eat.

When a well-dressed stranger offers him unlimited wealth in exchange for a simple-sounding wager, Don Giovanni knows he shouldn't take it. Only the devil would offer a deal like this, and only a fool would accept. But Don Giovanni is desperate. Against his better judgment he enters into a deal with the devil: he will not change his clothes or bathe for three years, three months, and three days.

Beauty is a small price to pay for worldly wealth, isn't it? Unless Don Giovanni loses the wager - and with it, his soul.

The Wager is based off of an old Sicilian fairy tale, so you can assume that Don Giovanni actually does make a bargain with the devil. But that is as far as this book goes toward supernatural/magic content.

It has been a long time since I've read one of Donna Jo Napoli's books. I remember most of her stories with fondness and a little frustration toward her characters. Don Giovanni is aggravating, but The Wager is one of those tales where you don't particularly care for any of the characters (except Cani, his dog). You read it out of curiosity, and you finish it out of curiosity. I didn't care what happened to Don Giovanni, I didn't particularly feel sorry for him, and I didn't dislike him, either. It was very difficult, for some reason, to attach to Don Giovanni in any manner.

Which may partially be why this is a book that is difficult to get through. But it isn't the only reason. The Wager is not a book you should read while you are eating a meal, or if your stomach is empty. The whole premise of the story is how Don Giovanni copes with not bathing, changing his clothes, or combing his hair for three years, three months, and three days. Donna Jo Napoli likes detail, and when a story's premise is about someone who doesn't bathe for that long, you can imagine where her detail focuses. Dirt. Filth. Stench. The resulting effect on a person's physical health when they don't wash. It would turn anyone's stomach. On top of that, the devil finds various ways to make Don Giovanni's filth increase, and there is a particular incident that is really disgusting. I had to stop reading because my stomach was so hungry, and it was turning to a degree that threatened to make me physically sick.

That, unfortunately, isn't the only content. Don Giovanni loves women, and everyone seems to give themselves freely to him. While there are no actual sexual scenes, there is lots of alluding to past relationships, as well as pleasant feelings compared to physical, intimate contact with a woman. Most of this is in the beginning of the book, and it isn't terribly explicit, but it is worth noting.

The Wager was an interesting story, but I don't think I'll buy it, and I certainly won't read it again. Definitely not for weak stomachs.
Star Rating: 2/5 (it was ok)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reckless Review (Cornelia Funke)

For Jacob Reckless, the real world holds nothing but heartache and trouble. He hates it. But in the Mirrorworld, he can escape all of that and live a life of adventure and danger. But one fateful day Jacob's younger brother Will follows him, and when an accident starts turning Will into a monster, Jacob has to abandon his usual life in the Mirrorworld and save him. Before it's too late. The Mirrorworld holds thousands of dangers not even the Brothers Grimm could dream up, but with the help of Clara - Will's true love - and a young vixen named Fox, Jacob may just succeed.
Cornelia's new masterpiece kept me turning the pages. The Mirrorworld is like a land populated with darker versions of classic fairy tales. And of course, Cornelia also populates this world with her own original creatures. As usual, her writing style is fluid and very vivid, conjuring up a world that only children are able to see. But Cornelia brings back that childhood feeling to her older Readers, making it an enjoyable read for anyone.

For those who loved her Inkworld Trilogy - Reckless will not disappoint. The Mirrorworld is as rich as the Inkworld - and just as fantastic. I really do love Cornelia's fairy-worlds; they possess the classic style of old German fairy tales. For this story, Cornelia did something a little different. While her other characters and places in previous books took on Italian names, this one had German-like names. Also, the Mirrorworld has taken on the technology and fashion of the early-to-middling Victorian era. You wouldn't think that dwarves and trolls and fairies would fit into an era like that, but Cornelia does a remarkable job with what is usually paired with medieval times, and putting it into a more modern era. I certainly never thought ogres and seven-league boots fit in with trains and factories.

The characters themselves are both enduring and frustrating - but not to a bad degree. Will's undying trust in Jacob can be a little irksome, but it is hard to fault him for it. At first, Clara threatened to be a useless tag-along who can't do anything, but she turns out to be brave and tries to help as much as she can. Fox was my favorite - she was the most sensible and kept everyone on track.

And now Jacob . . . I will admit that he wasn't nearly as annoying as I was expecting him to be. He thinks only of his brother the entire time of their quest, constantly blames himself for what happened, and is overall trying to do what's right. The times he messes up are not due to any true recklessness on his part. There are some things that just can't be stopped. Even the most experienced adventurer runs into trouble now and then. Really, what was most annoying about him was his womanizing.

No, he does not - thank goodness - chase after every girl and flirt 24/7. Nor does he always go on about his good looks, how no girl can resist him, etc. But there are plenty of alludements to his past relationships - most of which the book seems to hint eventually led to intercourse of the most intimate kind. There is actually a scene in the book that - though hinted at in the most delicate words and in as few as possible - it is clear what he and the woman are doing. It's really hard to like a character when they act so dishonorably. And Jacob is likeable in every other way! Very frustrating.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke is just as good as her other books. It's dark - there are instances that will scare younger Readers, especially when the Tailor appears - and there are more sexual alludements than I would like to find in a kid's book. They would go over a younger Reader's head, for Cornelia is never explicit, but it is something to keep in mind if you're considering reading it out loud to a kid. Other than that, it's exciting and a quick read. And judging by the way it ends, there may be a sequel in the future.

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

Others in The Mirrorworld Trilogy:

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Body at the Tower Review (Y.S. Lee)

Synopsis: Mary Quinn is now a trusted member of the Agency - the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Her new assignment sends her to the building site of the Houses of Parliament, dressed as a pauper-boy, in order to investigate the mysterious death of one of the workers. Though Mary spent most of her younger years in the guise of a boy, this assignment proves to have its difficulties in maintaining her assumed identity - especially when James Easton reappears as inspector of the site's safety. There are games afoot, and Mary has little time to solve it before another death occurs.

Review: I cannot say how much I love mystery stories set in Victorian England. The Agency series is a bit earlier in the Victorian era than I especially like reading about, but it isn't too early to make me completely disinterested. As usual, Y.S. Lee terrifically captures London's dark, dank streets with her well-researched history and language. Unlike A Spy in the House (Book 1), her visual descriptions do not bring a Reader's mental eye too close for comfort. And also unlike A Spy in the House, the ending was not nearly as cliche and irritating.

But . . . James Easton. I cannot tolerate him, nor the conversations he and Mary have. Their bantering is a little better in this one than in Book 1, but it still exceeds an annoying factor that made my eye twitch, set my teeth on edge, and made me wish that a horse would run over James. His arrogance and womanizing causes his "cheeky" and "shining" grin to be as a mosquito in one's ear. It's not cute; it's just as disgusting and pathetic as those adolescent males who think if they ooze charm, one will forget their lack of honor and instead believe lack thereof to be endearing. I wanted to yell at Mary that she was far more intelligent and sensible than to fall for James's nauseating flirtations. Why - oh why - can authors no longer write leading male characters that are honorable and pleasant to be around?! This seemingly very simple fact made The Body at the Tower a very hard read, and also made it fall short of what it could have been.

Maybe Book 3 will be better?

Overall Rating: JJJ

Other Books in The Agency Series:
1)A Spy in the House
2)The Body at the Tower

3)The Traitor in the Tunnel